Interview: Protector / Richard Lederer (Summoning, Ice Ages, Die Verbannten Kinder Eva’s)

When black metal went more toward an orthodoxy that by nature of emphasizing its strengths, simplified its technique to the point of crumbling complexity, Summoning went another direction, and made slower, reverent music about a former (and possibly future) time of honor and conflict. In the history of metal, Summoning represents one of the more potent variants of ambient metal and an encouraging aesthetic for anyone tired of modern time. Protector, one half of the dynamic duo that Summoning became, went on to participate in several other projects focusing on a classic theme of black metal: an ambient consciousness from which a sense of beauty and thus meaning in life emerges.

You have created music in several bands, and have been moving toward ambient material throughout this career. What inspires you to work with this medium instead of more concrete one?

My music can be surely described as ambient music, but for me that term is not an opposite to the word “concrete.” I always take care to make concrete melodies and rhythms which you could even create well with more traditional instrument or transcribe into notes. Un-concrete music is for me rather music based only on soundscapes and noises which don’t transport melodic or rhythmic information like many real ambient bands do. I always tried to be melody- and rhythm-oriented and always use sounds as carrier of that; I rarely use a sound just for the sake of the sound.

What definitively makes music ambient is the slower tempo and the multi-layered structure. Instead of playing a lot of super fast short riffs in fast succession, I prefer to create longer harmonic structures and build up a song by repeating them and adding more and more layers to it. That might sound monotonous for people used to fast breaks and tempo changes but that’s for me the way music has the most intense effect. Hearing different musical information at the same time is for me far more interesting than hearing bits of information in succession because that way I have more the feeling of a long huge song and not the feeling as if I were listening to 10 short simple songs that are combined into one long song.

When you write songs, do you start with a visual concept, or a riff, or something else?

The music is always the most important thing during the composing process. I neither think about anything visual nor about lyrics until the very end of a song creating process. With Ice Ages, I start from deep sounds while the higher ones appear the more the song grows. In Ice Ages I often have some kind of bass drum sound or a mighty bass line and with the keys I play around without any special musical aim. I think the less fixed the mind is during the early songwriting the better results I get. This does not mean that I never work in a structured way; on the contrary, structured work is one of the most important things for me, but structure without some kind of chaos (or creativity in another word) is not possible. After I have a nice bass drum or bass line part I see if I like it and if I like it the competition of that song fragment is already clear. I easily find new sounds and new layers which I add after each loop and in most cases after 1-2 hours I already have a full musical arrangement in full length.

Summoning seems to rest at an intersection of genres. What were your influences, and how did they urge you to reach for this unusual style?

I never considered my way of working as a mix of different musical styles. Actually, the crossover idea that was birthed already 22 years ago with bands like Faith No More is for me rather something old fashioned than anything progressive. So I never tried to take any existing musical styles and mix them together to pretend to create something new; I just make the music I have inside and see what comes out. When I was a child I learned classical drums, including kettle drums and march drums before I started to learn rock drums. My rhythmic style surely came from this part of my life. Also, the idea to create orchestral sounds is rather close at hand if you play the first time with a keyboard and check the different sounds. Another important part is the mentioned love for slower tempos which naturally grew at the time when super fast death metal was popular. It was a time where fast tempi started to bore me. So all in all you can see that the style is not the result of a wish to confuse people with style mixes but rather an expression of my musical taste and the musical experiences I have had during my life.

When Hellhammer said, “Only Death is Real,” it launched legions of death metal and grindcore bands who showed us through sickness, misery and sudden doom (in their lyrics) that life is short, manipulations are false, and we need to get back to reality. Where should the genre go from there?

I cannot see much reality in metal of today. Apart from some hardcore bands for me most of the metal (specially black metal) music is more a kind of fantasy music even if they don’t have fantasy lyrics. Even if some black metal bands try to spread some political views it’s also just a kind of fantasy as it mainly deals with some 1000 year old tribes that don’t have much in common with the present world. And also singing about death is not really dealing with reality because no one can know he feels after death.

But it should be particularly noted that if a public that was first placed in this yoke by the guardians is suitably aroused by some of those who are altogether incapable of enlightenment, it may force the guardians themselves to remain under the yoke–so pernicious is it to instill prejudices, for they finally take revenge upon their originators, or on their descendants. Thus a public can only attain enlightenment slowly. Perhaps a revolution can overthrow autocratic despotism and profiteering or power-grabbing oppression, but it can never truly reform a manner of thinking; instead, new prejudices, just like the old ones they replace, will serve as a leash for the great unthinking mass.

– Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment?

What are the goals of your art? Is there a goal to art itself?

I don’t think so much in goals, or better said, not in distant goals. The goal is each time to make a perfect album and to add as much music and passion to it as possible. I don’t have any goal concerning “success” for example. I think goals that are too huge are rather disturbing. Specifically, the aforementioned success goal would be a very disturbing one, because it would mean to try to adapt the music to the taste of the masses — which we never did. I think the more a person makes music for the sake of music, the more pure and honest that music becomes. I don’t want the music to become a kind of tool for any other aspects apart from music.

If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? Can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture (“subculture”) of its own?

Sure. For example, Ice Ages is always dark and negative, so the spectrum might be limited, but I think that life and the world is something endless so even if you limit the aspect used for your music you still have endless things to sing about. I prefer to focus on special parts than to integrate as many elements as possible. There is not so much super dark slow music around on the world, so it’s a natural thing to deal with that for me.

Ice Ages often sounds like ambient music, soundtracks, and the epic warlike feel of black metal rolled into one style. What sort of “space” are you trying to create for the imagination of your listeners?

In one way the music is different from black metal and in another, it’s similar. As I mentioned, before black metal is also a music far away from reality. Even if they sing about historic battles they still sing about a time long ago which most probably don’t know well and surely never experienced. The farther away a theme is from current reality the more it’s inspiring for fantasy. If you look at people of today they are just people (and in most cases quite boring ones ;-) but if you look on ancient people who were actually the same you can much better let your fantasy grow and imagine what god-like creatures they must have been and put any attitude you like into them.

Ice Ages does not deal with historic themes, but creates moods that make the listener feel as if he would be in a dark future which is far away from present times. And that’s the common thing between black metal and Ice Ages. They both don’t take place in the present world and therefore are both the best way to let your fantasy grow. For me dealing with a dark future world is even more inspiring for fantasy as you are even free from history and can imagine anything you want. When I hear Ice Ages, I often think about a world after humanity, where only the machines remain and rule the world. But that’s of course just my view on it and as music is something totally subjective and any listener will imagine something different in it.

Some have said that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs are motifs that evolve toward a passage between states of mind for the listener. Is this true, and if so, how is it reflected in your songwriting?

If music is considered as narrative then it’s rather a matter of the lyrics than of the music. I know that musicians often want to tell stories just with music, but I think without lyrics that does not work. For example if folk metal bands sing about the nature of their country they surely feel those images in their music but if I would play that music to my mother she what rather say “oh, what evil noise music from hell” and surely not “oh, what a nice landscape I imagine when I close my eyes” :-) music is always totally subjective and depending on your preferences you might imagine totally different things to the same music. The lyrics are the only real concrete thing in a song.

As in all of my projects, the lyrics are always the very last thing we add. We always just think in tunes and harmonies and just think how much they can move our hearts but we don’t really think about stories during the song composition process. Only at the end we add this narrative aspect by adding the lyrics.

Now in what way is the lover to be distinguished from the non-lover? Let us note that in every one of us there are two guiding and ruling principles which lead us whither they will; one is the natural desire of pleasure, the other is an acquired opinion which aspires after the best; and these two are sometimes in harmony and then again at war, and sometimes the one, sometimes the other conquers. When opinion by the help of reason leads us to the best, the conquering principle is called temperance; but when desire, which is devoid of reason, rules in us and drags us to pleasure, that power of misrule is called excess. Now excess has many names, and many members, and many forms, and any of these forms when very marked gives a name, neither honourable nor creditable, to the bearer of the name. The desire of eating, for example, which gets the better of the higher reason and the other desires, is called gluttony, and he who is possessed by it is called a glutton; the tyrannical desire of drink, which inclines the possessor of the desire to drink, has a name which is only too obvious, and there can be as little doubt by what name any other appetite of the same family would be called; — it will be the name of that which happens to be dominant. And now I think that you will perceive the drift of my discourse; but as every spoken word is in a manner plainer than the unspoken, I had better say further that the irrational desire which overcomes the tendency of opinion towards right, and is led away to the enjoyment of beauty, and especially of personal beauty, by the desires which are her own kindred — that supreme desire, I say, which by leading conquers and by the force of passion is reinforced, from this very force, receiving a name, is called love (erromenos eros).

– Plato, Phaedrus

Like in the late 1970s, metal feels to many people like it has lost direction and become hollow. Is a change in direction needed, and if so, will that come from within metal?

I think the problem about metal is that it became a quite conservative scene that lost its rebellious attitude. True, especially in black metal, the bands still try to shock the audience with political incorrectness etc, but concerning just the music the shock effect is lower than ever before. You have now in the metal scene so many neo-bands. Neo-power metal, neo-death metal, even neo-old school black metal but hardly really something new. To be honest, I have not heard anything that surprised me in the last years of metal, while in the past every step from one metal sub genre to the next one was a huge thunder. I remember when I was used to thrash metal and for the first time heard grindcore / death metal; it was really very shocking and took a while to understand that style. Things like that don’t happen any more in the metal scene. For me the metal sound is some kind of complete and finished and there is not much to add to it. But on the other hand I think that people in the late 1970s also might have thought the same while they were proven wrong in the following decades.

I think metal music is maybe just a bit burned out because music with hard guitars already entered already the mainstream the years before. Apart from very conservative people a super hard guitar chord is no considered as noise as in the past. I remember clearly 15 years ago when I was walking with long hair and a dark metal shirt through the streets I often was considered as a mentally ill decadent maniac by old conservatives; now metal with harsh guitars has become far more socially acceptable.

How do you record Ice Ages material? Have you gone digital, or are you using a traditional studio?

I am a fan of working strictly in digital. The music is created in a digital way and therefore digital recording is the most suitable way for my taste. Meanwhile I even switched to pure software synthesiser and sampler solutions as they are far more powerful and flexible. I really don’t miss those analog days, and enjoy the possibilities to create a fine album just with a PC in a small room and to be able to store several of versions of a song-mix and continue with each of them whenever I like. I don’t miss all those dusty wires on the floor like in the past.

What kind of community (or “scene,” I suppose) is most nurturing to the development of excellent music? Is one required to have a critical mass of artists working in the same area and supporting each other? Or do communities create an expectation of clone music?

I was never really in any community. When I started listening to metal music at the age of 15 I think I was almost the only one who listened to that music in my school and for a long times I did not know a single person that did not consider that kind of music as pure noise. The same goes for dark electronic music; I am not really in contact with people who are into that music as well and I discovered it on my own as well. And I think I don’t need any communities to make my music, I rather prefer the possibilities that keyboards offer to be able to make music alone without being dependent on a band. Of course, I like to talk about music as well, but for me more than two people in a band is often more disturbing than useful and is the reason for many band splits.

I also usually play the songs to others before they are released, but not in order to get comments about the quality of the songs, rather about the sound, which is something more objective than melodies or rhythms. External opinions about something as subjective as musical taste can really limit the creative freedom and confused mind, so I try to avoid it.

Summoning steadily moved from somewhat traditional black metal to a new style where guitars and keyboards were equally important. This was a first for black metal, and opened up a new style. How did you maintain a consistent sound and outlook with the style changing so much?

I don’t think that what you say suits the difference between the debut and the second CD :-)

The debut was quite a pure black metal release with all the typical elements like double bass, and with few keyboard parts; for all other releases your question is valid. I think if a band really know what music it wants to create the surface is not so important anymore. I have a few aspects in my music that are essential for me (like huge songs, multi-layered song structures) that will always be the fundament of my music, so even if I were to use totally different instruments I still would transport the essence of what I like in music. It does not really matter so much if I play the guitars in a rhythmic staccato way as I did on Summoning – Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame or in an opened way as I did with Summoning – Oath Bound as long as I don’t forget about long melodic parts.

If so, is art decoration? Is it propaganda? Or is it a communication between artist and listener? Please explain your choice.

Art can be all of the things you mentioned; it depends on the artist which aspect is valid for him. For some people music is rather a tool to spread messages, for others the music is already the message. I definitely belong to the second group of people and would consider my music as degraded if it would just exist to tell people messages which I could much better relate with words and arguments. The less messages you want to spread with music the more pure the music can be.

Music is for me more like cooking. You cook to get a fine meal which shall tastes brilliant, but I hardly know any cook who wants to spread messages with the food; that’s how it should be with music.

Although I really care about people who listen to my music and write me, and answer each email I get, I don’t see the music as communication between artist and listener because during the song creation process I don’t think about any listeners for a single moment. As explained above, thoughts like that would subconsciously manipulate my music and might turn it into a mainstream direction. I know that lots of people like the music I do where I never care about the taste of the others, so the best way to keep on making music they like is not to care about any other tastes.

The author Kurt Vonnegut famously referred to art as a canary in a coal mine, or a warning signal for society. Other artists, notably romantics, have claimed that art serves a necessary role in celebration of life. still others believe it should celebrate the artist. Where, if anywhere, do these views intersect, and is it possible for art to exist as a discrete one of them and not as an intersection?

As I said I make music just for the sake of music not to spread messages or to change the world, but that does not mean that I don’t care about the world. I care about it very much but I don’t think that the music is the right media for it. But anyway I think that politics, music and life can never be separate. No matter what you do, it’s in a way political as it influences others and therefore the world. For example the fact that in my projects I make music far away from the mainstream expresses my resistance to conformity and sheepness. By creating long songs, I am in opposition to the super fast capitalistic advertisement lifestyle of these days where everything is fast, bright and blinking. I know what I am telling now is not really happening consciously, but that’s how art normally happens.

Anyway, I certainly don’t see my music as celebration of myself. I don’t like arrogance, for example, as arrogance is just a result of narrow mindedness and in most cases of inferiority complexes. For me, it’s completely clear that if I were living in a different time or in a different place my music might not be known at all, or even I might not ever have started making music while others that are totally unknown might now be the well-known ones.

Quorthon of Bathory refers to his music as “atmospheric heavy metal.” What does atmospheric composition offer that the world of rock music, jazz, blues or techno cannot?

For me the question is not atmospheric versus concrete music, but electronic music versus “handmade” music but I think those two differences are related to each other.

Real handmade music like jazz or metal music is more a kind of music that’s made for the musician but it’s not so much composer oriented. Lots of the musical elements you hear there are the result of presenting your abilities as musicians rather than a product of your musical mind. Let’s take super fast double bass drums or super fast progressive guitar solos. Such things cause thoughts like “wow, what a great guy, a true hero, how can he move his feet/fingers so fast,” but they are very often not meant to be a serious musical idea. With electronic music it makes no sense to play super fast double bass drums for example, as this will not impress anyone. You can increase the tempo of any drum endlessly so that the speed of the drums is nothing challenging; the same goes to super fast melody lines. Therefore the challenge of music based on electronic devices can never be to show your bodily abilities, so the ability for composing music is the only thing that remains. All those elements like the slow tempo, the repeating loops, the lack of tempo or bar changes is a result of that electronic aproach and way of thinking.

Do you believe music should be mimetic, or reflect what’s found in life, or ludic, and show a playfulness with life that encourages us to experience it in depth? Do the two ever cross over?

Well, it’s obvious that my music belongs to a style that does not reflect real life. I think both approaches are OK and necessary, but I prefer to use music as something that’s in contrast to normal life. We have real life all the time so I don’t see the need to deal with real life in music as well. Modern technological times are pure logic and quite sober so I think especially in these times completely unreal music is more necessary than ever before. I can imagine that if I were to live in the medieval times where thoughts of people were controlled by religions and mystic beliefs far away from the logical mind, I might would try to make music for real life, but as this is not the case there is no need for that.

What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

I don’t really think in that distinction.

In the past I got quite angry when all of those conservative classical musicians told the people what’s good, serious and intelligent music, and what’s low, entertaining music. Anything that did not wholly match the strict classical rules of the centuries before was just stupid entertainment, and specifically metal was just some noise for them that makes people stupid. So I associate this distinction very much with conservative arrogance that was always the enemy to metal music. I think all kind of music must be entertaining! Sure the word entertaining has a negative sound, but I mean more that music must cause some kind of fire in your soul, make your heart beat faster or slower, make you shiver, cry or scream depending on the musical style. Anything that really moves the heart must be for me the basic of any music. If there is ever music that people just listen to with a pseudo-intellectual face just to show off with their musical high education but without any passion inside, I would recommend them to stop listening to music because its a waste of time in their cases.

You’ve just released a new Ice Ages album. What’s next — will there be a tour, or are you already at work on new projects?

Due to the long unwanted rest, I had some years before I could not fulfil many musical ideas I had in mind, and now that I am able again to make music I feel all this creativity come back to me in a super mighty fast way. This is the reason why, unlike usual, after a release I am still able to work on songs and don’t need a rest. I already made a new Ice Ages song and seven Summoning song fragments, and am waiting for my co-member to complete them. So I don’t think that the next releases will take a very long time if a serious tragedy doesn’t happen.

I am never focused on tours. With Summoning we don’t play live at all, but with Ice Ages, I gave a concert in Romania (for example) but there are no new concerts planned to far.

In fact, it is absolutely impossible to make out by experience with complete certainty a single case in which the maxim of an action, however right in itself, rested simply on moral grounds and on the conception of duty. Sometimes it happens that with the sharpest self-examination we can find nothing beside the moral principle of duty which could have been powerful enough to move us to this or that action and to so great a sacrifice; yet we cannot from this infer with certainty that it was not really some secret impulse of self-love, under the false appearance of duty, that was the actual determining cause of the will. We like them to flatter ourselves
by falsely taking credit for a more noble motive; whereas in fact we can never, even by the strictest examination, get completely behind the secret springs of action; since, when the question is of moral worth, it is not with the actions which we see that we are concerned, but with those inward principles of them which we do not see.

– Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

Thanks to Protector for an informative interview. You can discover his work here:

Summoning
Ice Ages

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I love MP3s

MP3s are an invitation to try before you buy. If you’re like me, and everyone I deem to be a good person and so desire as a friend, you listen for months or years and then you buy the CD when you can — if it’s available, which in metal is far from guaranteed.

Periodically, on a rainy afternoon, I go through the music as I do mindless tasks like fixing scripts and HTML. These mindless tasks are perfect because they put me in an ornery mood, at which point I have no tolerance for music that is more annoyance than beauty. Even ugliness can be beautiful in the hands of an artist — watch Apocalypse Now if you don’t believe me, or listen to the “defeat” sections of Beethoven’s third symphony. I’m not responsible for your tears that make you look like a girly man.

But it’s the right mood to consider something you might listen to for years in the context of a high annoyance situation like mindless tasks. It’s like being tired at the end of a day: you say exactly what you mean, uncensored. With music, you get in touch with exactly how little you care about stuff far from what you want, even if normally you’d be feeling obligated to listen to it because it’s musically advanced, some critic likes it, all your friends like it, etc.

I’ve been rooting out some turds. I take no joy in this, but I take great joy in having them gone. That’s less of my time thrown down a black hole of dysfunction and disorganization, the two creators of really bad music or worse — music that is halfway to bad, so completely ambiguous in its presentation. Most people are so cowed by the social factors mentioned above that they keep listening, bovine erotic, and never manage to articulate their own voice or even a moment’s sense and say, “Actually, this doesn’t suck, but it’s not good enough to fascinate me, so why not throw it out, with last year’s failed relationship and my old textbooks from classes I hated and my tax documents?” Get the crap out of your life and you have space for new things to do.

Arsis – A Diamond for Disease

Oh no, it’s the whisper-voiced rushing death/black assault. After a promising intro, and forty seconds of two-chord jazz-inspired rhythm riffing, suddenly we get the synthesized whisper and a break to a guitar fill that sounds like it’s from the book of minor pentatonic scale variations commonly used by jazz/fusion bands to distract audiences from that moment when an overblown, pretentious song really begins to fuckin’ drag… and that’s what this EP does, except at high speed. The problem is that there’s no concentration on songs or ideas as a whole, so you get these budget riffs made all technical and then little diversions, but nothing ever comes into its own. Nice try guys, but next time, use notecards to organize and concentrate on having a song make a difference to the listener, not just teach them fret muting technique.

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Possessed and Sadistic Intent in Austin, Texas

Possessed and Sadistic Intent
June 29, 2008
Red 7
622 E. 7th Street
Austin, Texas 78701

Sadistic Intent played their first-ever show in Austin last night, which was ostensibly more auspicious in that they were also serving as Jeff Becerra’s backing band in the current incarnation of Possessed. The band came out to a well-attended room and delivered a set of now time-worn but authentic tracks taken from the series of EPs they released in the mid-90’s. A distinct sense of “Abominations of Desolation” permeated the set in their favor, as few bands of the current era are able to draw upon their predecessors in such a convincing manner. Momentum was lost as one of the two guitarists suddenly had string problems and appeared to be unable to resolve it without consultation from both of his axe-mates. The unit left the stage after three songs but then returned to complete the set about ten minutes later. The audience reacted appropriately with multiple phalanxes of whirling hair and horns held high, and ultimately Sadistic Intent proved why their name continues to endure despite a spare discography.

Following another more prolonged intermission, the band retook the stage again with Jeff Becerra in tow. There was much curiosity leading up to this performance because save for the notorious vocalist this was effectively a Possessed cover band. Compounding this was Becerra’s confinement to a wheelchair since 1989 after being shot in a drug deal gone bad (these circumstances have since been obscured through revisionism and the fact that the event occurred before the advent of the internet), so expectations among the assembled faithful were punctuated with question marks and guarded commentary.

It takes courage to carry on after such a devastating blow to one’s health and mobility, and if Becerra had presented with conviction and dignity he would have easily overcome his perceived limitations. In this venue, unfortunately, he wore his handicap and a still-apparent substance abuse problem around his neck like an anvil and proceeded to turn the event into a spectacle. The man is admittedly scary in a way that transcends metal; mad-eyed and clearly unstable, he wheeled around the stage and spent most of the time crowding or hitting the dutiful members of his backing band or gesticulating to his handlers for more beer (which, once received, he continuously poured over his head). Sadistic Intent, to their massive credit, lashed convincingly through a set of tunes comprised of the proto-death classic “Seven Churches”, and seemed they focused on working as a unit in spite of the dubious situation. It was no surprise that they seemed divorced from the vocalist, given his complete lack of poise. Becerra rasped and yelled his way through the songs in a fashion that made it seem more like he was interrupting rather than contributing. There were a few glimmers of the hellish voice that made him famous, but it was hardly a showing that would have resurrected any former glories. The set’s highlight was the modern classic, “The Exorcist”, which led to several subsequent injuries in the pit and further acquitted the band’s efforts. The end of the show was marked by Becerra’s leap from the stage, wheelchair and all, face-first into the middle of the floor. For a moment it looked as though he had managed to finish himself off but his attendants managed to scrape him up and carry him past many bemused onlookers.

In this reviewer’s opinion, the legacy of Possessed is in terrible danger of being further maligned and invalidated through appearances such as this. It was an experience to be sure, but more befitting of a rodeo or a circus than the revival of a seminal metal act. Even a top-flight backing band cannot account for the psychotic and counterproductive behavior of its frontman, and ultimately it is Mr. Becerra whose reputation is at stake. For now it seems like he is a full-time resident of a truly dark and painful place, and if he does not find a way to surface then he will likely consumed by the very demons he invoked on his albums so many years ago.

– Written by David Anzalone

Bands:
Possessed
Sadistic Intent

Promoters:
Red 7

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Interview: Mike Riddick (Metalhit.com)

This site pioneered metal journalism using dial-up and later online means for one simple reason: no wasted paper. It was apparent by 1984 that computers would soon become household and business appliances, as indispensible as copy machines and perhaps more numerous. The logic went this way: if we’re going to have them anyway, distributing information through computer networks means no dead trees, no additional waste, and possibly a more efficient distribution method.

Twenty years later, one of the debates still under mainstream radar is that of MP3 piracy. It touches all aspects of our government and society: is it theft to copy MP3s? If it is, do we want the Nanny State peering over our shoulders to see what we’re copying? Should we trust people to buy what they download, or try copy protection, just as we did with software and eventually abandoned? Who should watch for violations? Who watches the watchers? And finally: can artists get paid in an age beyond material scarcity, when a CD can be downloaded in minutes?

Mike Riddick, a pioneer in metal artistry in his own right, has tried the dangerous new waters of this controversial issue by launching Metalhit.com, a promotional firm/label that will send reviewers MP3s of CDs. Since promotional CDs arrive in bunches and most commonly go to the trash the same way, this is a green and metal way of forging past barriers to see the potential of this new form. We got in a few words with Mike about the future of digital media and metal.

When did you start metalhit.com, and what realization guided you toward the idea of doing an mp3-based promotion service/label?

I launched Metalhit.com in January 2008. The idea was born from a suggestion my wife made while discussing with her the status of my other (traditional) label, The Fossil Dungeon. I had always wanted to operate a metal label, publishing bands I enjoy, and this was an innovative way to do it.

Why an mp3-based promotion firm, and did you know about/use mp3s before starting the firm?

My other label, The Fossil Dungeon, had been publishing CDs while coincidentally publishing our releases in the digital market for a while so it was something I was acquainted with. While I still personally prefer CDs and Vinyls for my own entertainment, I do use Mp3s as well. One primary reason I opted to go exclusively digital with both of my labels was the fact that consumer markets are driven by convenience. Purchasing music online is far more convenient for the fan than going to the store, especially when dealing with music that’s not readily accessible in stores to begin with! Another primary reason I decided to go with Mp3s was the expense factor. I and the bands only make money when their music sells so we do not need to be concerned about throwing lots of money down upfront to create inventory and then hope that inventory sells. People profit when product moves and that business concept attracted me. Furthermore, the money I would usually invest in manufacturing can now go to marketing and promoting our artists in a better way. Overall, it’s a win-win situation and that makes for a good business. Operating my traditional CD/Vinyl-based label was a financial struggle and caused me to suffer losses for 5 years straight. As a digital label and distributor, the business model is more sound and more effective overall.

It seems several well-known labels have been receptive, and the metal press has been positive. Is this so, and what has helped you become accepted?

I am aware that digital sales are increasing rather rapidly on a year-to-year basis. I believe the statistic runs around 15% whilst CD sales are diminishing about 5% each year. The numbers tell me that people are getting comfortable with the digital format and I trust that within 10 years the industry will be 100% digital. I’m pleased the metal scene is embracing this change.

Major labels argue that allowing mp3s at all encourages theft and copying, but others point out that those who download mp3s are generally those without the money or inclination to buy the product anyway. How do you think mp3s can be used to promote music, and can it be done so without losing money for artists?

I don’t think artists will see too dramatic of a shift in the bootlegging of their work than in previous periods of music. Granted, it is easier to move music illegally these days by sharing files versus dubbing a cassette tape or ripping and burning a CD. However, overall I think that if a fan values a band’s music enough, they’ll pay for it, especially with the knowledge that they’re directly supporting the artists they appreciate. Even if music moves freely among music fans, it still serves as good promotion. If a music fan didn’t pay for an album they own, but they like the band, they’ll probably go see them at a show or perhaps order some merchandise online. The band will profit this way, whereas if their music hadn’t been freely shared, they would’ve lost out on this fan. While a band and label would prefer for the fan to pay for music legitimately, I don’t think the random occasions of this happening will ultimately cripple the industry. Consider libraries, for example. Did borrowing books freely ever put the book publishing industry out of business? Nope.

Democracy is cancerous, and bureaus are its cancer. A bureau takes root anywhere in the state, turns malignant like the Narcotic Bureau, and grows and grows, always reproducing more of its own kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised. Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organisms. (A cooperative on the other hand CAN live without the state. That is the road to follow. The building up of independent units to meet the needs of people who participate in the functioning of the unit. A bureau operates on the opposite principle of inventing needs to justify the existence.) Bureaucracy is wrong as cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action, to the complete parasitism of a virus.

– William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

If mp3s are accepted as a means of sending promos, or as a way of selling music, it may force restructuring upon the industry. What do you think the music industry of the future will look like?

Labels are already jumping on the convenience of digital music. Apart from my label submitting promos digitally, I’m aware many of the majors are doing this as well. I think the industry will be much different in the future than its current state. For example, music stores will be a thing of the past. For example, indie shops situated around college campuses are already disappearing because the younger generation has gone completely digital. Music will be entirely digital, purchased from people’s home computers and portable devices. The technology for this is already in place and is growing more popular each day. I think labels will market bands in traditional ways, though leaning more toward multi-media avenues on the web. For example, I don’t think print magazines dealing with music will be around much longer though I do think they will outlast CDs.

Have you encountered resistance from labels and bands in your plan to send out mp3s to reviewers and, if so, what were the common objections? How did you resolve them?

Yes, I have encountered music reviewers and radio show DJs that have chosen not to accept digital promos. For most it is simply a matter of comfort. They aren’t yet comfortable with this medium and they still prefer things the traditional way. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this and many of the labels still cater to these individuals by providing them with promo CDs, etc. For a lot of music journalists, their primary incentive for writing reviews is the fact they get to have tangible CDs as a perk for their work. While my music is still “free” to them, the reward factor isn’t present because there is nothing entirely tangible given to them. Some people prefer to hold something rather than have it as a file on their computer. This is perhaps the only factor slowing the transition into the digital age of music, but as technology increases and the devices used to play CDs become obsolete, the transition will be inevitable. While this can hamper my marketing efforts, I contrarily have marketing partners that love digital music and embrace it happily. There are enough promoters out there to still run an effective marketing campaign, exclusively digital!

Some argue that digital rights management (DRM), which is any of a number of encryption schemes to prevent unauthorized copying or uploading of those mp3s, should be applied to any mp3s made of original works. Do you believe this is an effective strategy?

DRM serves nothing but an inconvenience to the fan. It limits the product a fan is purchasing and that is just bad business. Who wants to buy music that will work only on one device when there are presently multiple devices to play music on in the marketplace? People will always find a way bootleg music and DRM is no exception so I find it to be a waste of time on the industry’s part. A lot of online music retailers, like eMusic, for example, offer downloads DRM-free. Likewise, the Metalhit.com Mp3 store is DRM-free!

Your work acknowledges a shift, through iTunes and other vectors, in the music industry toward accepting digital technology, including its ability to make a copy of anything already digitized. Some see the market as moving from selling a product, in which the physical form and information it contained were bonded inextricably, to selling a license to an abstract service, which is the ability to play or view a work, regardless of form. How will this affect how musicians, labels and promoters get paid?

It’s interesting how you describe this shift and it’s quite accurate. I believe labels and musicians will have to simply accept this transition and recognize that the future of media will be much more amorphous, not simply an individual unit. One thing I think we will see a rise in is the advent of the single. Previously, singles were used to leverage the sale of a full album. However, now fans have the ability to cherry-pick the songs they want and not have to purchase the filler that used to occupy full length albums. In fact, the idea of a full length album will become vague as this medium becomes more popular. It used to be that 45 minutes of music made up an album when that was all you could squeeze onto a record. CDs increased this expectation to a full hour. With digital music, timing is not an issue and people will simply purchase what they enjoy, song-by-song. As for musicians and labels being paid.I think it will still be the same, using a royalty system. What I do anticipate, however, is that artists will potentially make more money from their music, either handling it independently without a label, or through labels that pay better royalties because when labels go exclusively digital they won’t have many of the same middle men and manufacturing expenses that swamp the traditional industry.

Has metalhit.com helped you promote and/or sell any of your own works? Were the results comparable to conventional music industry models? (N.B. I recognize that you, like many other underground musicians, may not be in this field “for the profit,” but I think we should recognize that for an artist to keep existing, the band must at least not lose money, and it needs to make money for those in the support infrastructure of labels, distros, venues, magazines, etc. — “selling out” is a different story, because even if Metallica’s black album had only sold six copies, it would still be a sell-out; this is not a question about the ethics of profit, in other words, although feel free to throw in any ideas you have there)

I have not yet published any of my own music through Metalhit yet, though I have been publishing my bands in the digital market through my other label for a while now. While those albums were published on CD as well, I have been able to see how digital sales compare to CD sales. CDs sales are definitely more prevalent in the marketplace today, though when you compare the expenses involved in each of these avenues, I find the digital medium more appealing, even if it only makes up a small sales margin right now. However, I see this increasing each year so it only seems logical to pursue digital in its entirety.

The idea of metalhit.com appeals to many in black metal because, as people who believe in an integral, parallel bond between spirituality, intelligence, nature and the organization of matter, they see unnecessary production of physical waste (in the form of physical promos that generally get thrown out) as destructive to nature. Was this part of your motivation behind metalhit.com, and have you any idea how effective you have been toward reducing waste?

I hadn’t considered this proponent of the psychology behind some black metal fans. If this is the case, then my label should prove favorable. In contrast, I would’ve assumed fans of black metal to be the most resistant to embracing a new medium since black metal carries with it a loyalty to older metal traditions and vinyl. In any case, the amount of physical waste reduced by this change in my operation has been dramatic. It’s largely a paperless business. The only paper used is for contracts, filed work and reproduced fliers.

How has the presence of mp3s changed the underground? Is it better to fight change that seems contrary, or to accept it and try to alter it to support original objectives?

Mp3s have significantly changed the underground. With the advent of the Internet, the connectivity between fans of music all across the world has increased tremendously. In the early 90’s and prior, the worldwide network of the underground metal scene was facilitated by postal mail and it would take weeks to communicate with others around the world. Now that the Internet is here, not only has it made underground more accessible, but it’s also given leverage to smaller bands and labels in the sense that they can now more readily compete with larger labels because both the independents and majors have access to resources only previously reserved for major labels.

What kind of journalistic outlets does metalhit.com service, and have you seen a rise in digital-format outlets, like blogs and twitter streams and the like?

We spread our bands as well as those from our partner labels as intensely as possible. We’ll go for traditional magazines and radio shows to online programs, blogs, webzines and the like. I think there is a definite rise in digital-format outlets for promotion, particularly among the younger generation of extreme metal fans.

If you were an up-and-coming death metal or black metal band today, how would you use digital media to promote your band?

Take advantage of it! Setting up a MySpace page, has been a relatively effective method for unknown artists to start marketing their work. Online advertising is another avenue for bands with more money to promote with and simply networking with labels, fans and distributors over the Internet is an excellent way to start making your work more known. The benefit of the Internet is that you can achieve a pretty decent amount of exposure with little expense involved. However, as with any successful artists, whether mainstream or underground, originality, hard work and persistent effort will yield results.

Thanks to Metalhit.com for this inspiring interview.

If we ask a man who is exploiting a commons to desist “in the name of conscience,” what are we saying to him? What does he hear?–not only at the moment but also in the wee small hours of the night when, half asleep, he remembers not merely the words we used but also the nonverbal communication cues we gave him unawares? Sooner or later, consciously or subconsciously, he senses that he has received two communications, and that they are contradictory: (i) (intended communication) “If you don’t do as we ask, we will openly condemn you for not acting like a responsible citizen”; (ii) (the unintended communication) “If you do behave as we ask, we will secretly condemn you for a simpleton who can be shamed into standing aside while the rest of us exploit the commons.”

– Garrett Hardin, The Tragedy of the Commons

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Interview: Marlon Friday (Abhorrent)

Guitarist Marlon Friday of demo band Abhorrent was kind enough to lend us his ears and voice for a brief interview on the state of death metal, and the direction this new act — which is challenging the stagnation of a genre too molded by its interpretation of fan expectations to be anything but stagnant — takes as it tackles the question of 21st century death metal.

When did you form Abhorrent, what were your previous projects, what’s the state of the band and who’s in it, and what is your status now?

Abhorrent was formed mid-2007 after some of our previous projects either didn’t go anywhere, or weren’t taken seriously. Previous projects were Erzebet and Misogyny, the latter, not taken too seriously, obviously. Abhorrent is Marlon Friday on guitar(s) and Lyle Cooper on Drums. We are currently looking for new members to fill in the vacant duties of the band. Also, we are looking to finish mixing and mastering our 3 song promo, and hoping to send it out to certain interested labels.

What are your goals in forming Abhorrent? Are there extra-musical goals (chicks, ideology, tour the world) as well as musical goals?

Music consumes both of our lives, and without it, we wouldn’t be who we are today. Abhorrent is an outlet of both emotion and ideology, which will be more present in the lyrical matter.

Add to the reckoning all whom thou hast known, one after another. One man after burying another has been laid out dead, and another buries him: and all this in a short time. To conclude, always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and what was yesterday a little mucus to-morrow will be a mummy or ashes. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art?

Of course, absolutely. It not only can be a form of art, but, in my mind it is and will always be an artistic expression.

What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

Well, in the context of music, I believe their is a certain overlapping of the two. Creating the music is the art form, while playing it live is the entertainment side… similar to art galleries, having people show up and look at the selection of art pieces in the exhibit is a form of entertainment.

Do you think heavy metal has a distinctive worldview different from that of “normal” people? Is worldview a grounding to an ideology, and can art have either? Do you think the worldviews and or ideologies of artists shape the kind of music they produce?

Yes, I do believe that heavy metal retains a certain world view that differs from the main populace. The worldview is a foundation for ideology and I believe wholeheartedly that can have both. Ideologies can shape the music in the creative process, and I believe it does a lot to define the type of sound the artist is going for. Be it abrasive or easy on the ears, or what have you.

Do you think death metal musicians converge on the genre because it sounds like thoughts or worldviews, and if so, does this produce any compatibility between views?

I think death metal musicians share, to an extent, certain views and feelings and that is a big reason that the “scene” started and evolved into what it is or isn’t today. There is definitely a compatibility between views, but that isn’t always the case.

If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture of its own?

Varying genres of music can definitely have a unified ideology/philosophy, which helps bring artists and listeners alike to a more unified ground.

Rumor has it that Abhorrent is considering being the first all-instrumental death metal band. what are the additional burdens on songwriters of writing songs without vocals?

Not sure if we would be the first, but, yes, this is a possibility. To have an all instrumental band, the music has to have an extra quality to it, a certain appeal that will be able to grab the audience and keep them listening. Since there would be no lyrics, it would be up to us to create an atmosphere and keep from diverting the listeners attention.

How do you conceive of a song: do you start with a riff, an abstract idea, an emotion, or a structure?

It all depends on the time and place. I might have a riff in my head, or a drumbeat or just be in a certain mood.

What are your influences, and are these shared among band members, and if not wholly, what other influences do they have?

When writing the music we don’t try and think … “Okay, these 3 bands influenced this song so let’s write something like it.” We just let the music flow and morph it as we go along. Although, you could probably tell some of my favourite bands (Gorguts) have leaked a bit into the riffs that I write.

Of the last ten years of metal, what are the standouts to you? what about other genres — what were the most influential and best works?

Gorguts – Obscura and From Wisdom To Hate
Adramelech – Pure Blood Doom
Immolation – Close To A World Below
Spawn of Possession – Cabinet and Noctambulant (to a lesser extent)
Martyr – Feeding The Abscess
Augury – Concealed
Anata – Under A Stone With No Inscription
Psycroptic – The Scepter Of The Ancients
Defeated Sanity – Prelude To The Tragedy, Psalms of The Moribund
Deathspell Omega – Fas, Ite Maledicti In Ignem Aeternum, Si Monvmentvm Reqvires Circvmspicere, and Kenose are all beyond words as well.
Drudkh – Most of their work.
Negura Bunget – Omwww
Agalloch – All of their material.
Emperor – Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, IX Equilibrium, Prometheus
Among tons of others.

Some have said that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs are motifs that evolve toward a passage between states of mind for the listener. is this true, and if so, how is it reflected in your songwriting?

It can be said about a lot of bands, but when I write material for Abhorrent, there is no set formula, it just evolves and evolves from there.

Do not look around thee to discover other men’s ruling principles, but look straight to this, to what nature leads thee, both the universal nature through the things which happen to thee, and thy own nature through the acts which must be done by thee. But every being ought to do that which is according to its constitution; and all other things have been constituted for the sake of rational beings, just as among irrational things the inferior for the sake of the superior, but therational for the sake of one another.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

What brands/models of guitars/amplifiers do you use, and what equipment/software do you use to record?

For the promo we recently recorded, I used: Jackson DKMG
Engl Fireball head
Mesa Dual Rectifier Over-sized Cab
and a Bugera head for the other guitar track.
Lyle (drums) used:
Mapex 5 piece
Sabian and Zildjian Cymbals
DW 9000 pedals
To record we used a motu 12 pre for the drums, with an assortment of different mics, with Cubase. Guitars were recorded DI and reamped with the ENGL and Bugera.

We’ve gone through another period, like that of the late 1970s, where metal has lost direction and started to be absorbed by rock music. Is a change in style needed, or is change in direction expressed in another direction? What do you think the metal of next decade will look like?

There are so many different variations of “metal” that incorporate completely different types of music, some of them lose base with the “traditional” style, but others don’t stray too far from a defined line. In the next decade I can’t even imagine what new types of metal music there will be. Here’s to hoping the quality of music increases exponentially.

What is the best way for fans to contact you and hear your music?

You can email abhorrent@gmail.com to contact the band, and the best place to listen to our music, as of now, is at www.myspace.com/abhorrentdm.

Some people prefer a scene, others a community, still others like to strike out on their own. How effective are scenes and communities in concentrating listeners who can appreciate similar approaches to music, and how much do they simply raise the expectation of clone music and drag the community down to a lowest common denominator?

A “scene” can be both beneficial and detrimental to the quality of music that is produced. It does give an outlet to a group of unified individuals who have similar tastes in music, but also, on the downside… some bands may think they have to keep releasing the same type of albums over and over because “that’s what the scene expects”, thus, never evolving, and never doing anything new.

Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.

What do you mean?

I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the den, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.

– Plato, Republic

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Dissenter, Eldrig, Cauterizer

Cauterizer – Then the Snow Fell

This band made the classic mistake of trying to make death metal a bouncy, jaunty, ironic hard rock genre at the time it was moving away from all that garbage. Had they tried it eight years later, they would have been Slipknot, but instead, they’re mostly forgotten. Sound is like old Therion and old Entombed played by Motley Crue.

Dissenter – Apocalypse of the Damned

We put Behemoth and Hate Eternal into a blender and got a highly competent effort that’s painful to listen to. Repetition of themes is aggressive, as is mirroring of similar rhythms throughout each piece, and like all metal made after 1995, there’s zero sense of dynamic, just a constant high-volume assault — a lot like hip-hop. A shame since these musicians are clearly above average in proficiency.

Eldrig – Kali

I wanted to like this. As atmosphere, it’s well-done; note choice is good, rhythm is good, dynamics are well done. As art, it’s a non-entity because there’s almost no change. It’s like Hindu-themed apocalyptic wallpaper.

Black Funeral – Vampyr: Throne of the Beast

This is an inverse review: all the Black Funeral albums other than this one are lesser. Vampyr is the peak. Seek Vampyr if you like Black Funeral.

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Metal Notebook: Daath, Seventh Angel, Shape of Despair

Daath – Futility

This band appears to be an attempt to integrate industrial beats, Marilyn Manson-style dark hard rock, and black metal vocals and aesthetics. It ends up sounding like a cross between Ministry and Prong with the kind of emphasis on internal rhythm that made middle-period Metallica so much fun to listen to. Vocals emulate the kind of radio propaganda that Rammstein use, but end up sounding like a phone conversation intercepted mid-song. Fans of Girls Under Glass and other techno/metal hybrids (let’s be honest about what this is) might appreciate it but the Pantera elements — gratifyingly symmetric rhythms, rock/jazz lead riffing, uniform complementary melodic slopes for primary riffs — make this sound like nu-metal to an underground fan.

Seventh Angel – The Torment

Exodus crossed with Morbid Angel: introductory death metal riffing breaks to bouncy, precision-strummed speed metal riffs that exchange leadership of rhythm between a few patterns which ultimate regress to the initial offering. Song breakdowns and overall concept of relationship between tempi is reminiscent of Suffocation, albeit slowed down, but the majority of the songcraft here is rendered in the form of jaunty, ebullient muffled-strum offbeat romps that made Exodus fun back in 1986 or so. Melodically a reasonable comparison would be Iron Maiden, as songs develop melodically from pentatonic to patterns approximating minor scales with majestic leaps that preserve harmonic suspense in bass-centric development, but its relentless speed metal styling forces this music through a compositional channel which simplifies it. In addition, the attribute of the best metal bands, namely the ability to maintain a narrative which finds beauty in the confluence of seemingly disparate parts, is in light supply, rendering this inaccessible to all but diehard 1980s metal fans.

Shape of Despair – Shape of

Imagine Burzum hybridized with epic doom like Skepticism or Sunn)))HIV), with rhythms like feet treading the path to the place of execution overlaid with gentle keyboard sequences over a Norse-style longboat-rowing beat. Probably this music is best for time in prison, or when sick, or locked in the cockpit of a propeller plane crossing oceans, because while it is quite pretty it develops slowly and its atmosphere conveys mostly repetition. Much like Satyricon, these composers are excellent at starting promising-sounding melodies yet have no idea where to take them, so they repeat and then squeak out with an improvised exit strategy as best they can. The result is somewhat “obvious” in that little mystery hides in its direction or the resolution to its patterns. Songwriting ability is high, but strategy is correspondingly low. It might be perfect for a soundtrack to a film about prospecting in the sands of the Sahara for water (on foot) but as a musical experience it is less than compelling.

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Why metal needs frontiers

Evolutionary skips like humanity do not occur without the introduction of a radical new method. In the case of humans, it was language, which allowed us to form societies of larger than familial groups, specialize in certain tasks, and so preserve a massive knowledge of tools and methods that would overwhelm any human. As a result, we are smarter chimps with socialization in our blood.

From this origin, it is easy to see why humans crave company, but approach it with an unease rooted in the need to keep a balance over social obligation and personal obligation. Too much obligation to society, and we become Stalinist slaves; too much obligation to the individual, and we become modern Americans shuttling between the shopping mall and the psychologist, wondering why we cannot fill the holes our souls with our rank, our wealth, and the possessions we pile up in our castle retreats before shipping them to third world landfills.

Too many people around us creates a hubbub that drowns out our own thoughts. In such situations, we get overwhelmed and it becomes harder to hear our own minds and memories because as we are concentrating, other voices intervene. It is like having someone talking to you when you type; inevitably, you type pieces of the conversation instead of what you meant to scribe. When we are overwhelmed by socialization, we get beaten down into accepting external trends and ideas as our own thoughts.

Someday this condition will be recognized as belonging to that indefinite area between disease and pathology where alcoholism, drug abuse, promiscuity, compulsive gambling, religious delusion and overeating fall. Just as the right dose of a compound has medicinal effect, but too much is poison, and too little is apathy, we need some degree of socialization: murder is wrong (except when necessary), don’t defecate in the water supply, help your neighbor if her house is on fire.

These thoughts are helpful when we can take them into ourselves as a logical conclusion, and realize their necessity, but when societies get too big and too unequal in the abilities of their populations, large centralized institutions or social movements occur which try to hammer these thoughts into our head. The fine line between “murder without reason creates anarchy” and “murder is bad in an absolute sense, and you’ll go to hell” is where things go wrong. If we get afraid for ourselves, and insist on making ever more rigid rules, we take American individualism and turn it into Stalinist persecution of those who step out of line.

In the same way that suffocation might be viewed as CO2 crowding out oxygen, this social overdose might be seen as nature, abhorring a vacuum as the cliche goes, flooding our minds with the will of others which magnified by the credence we give external objects for their self-evidence, take on a higher weight of appearance than our own thoughts — or observations which, while not our own, ring true with what we know from experience and analysis. Civilization can drown us in what makes it strong, which is its support network for us.

Nature thrives on complexity, and like most patterns in nature, this sequence of logical events is repeated in any situation where individual brains must form one brain for the purpose of supporting greater knowledge. One such case is that of musical genres, especially those which derive much of their power from their claim that they are an alternative view to the dominant cliche, which may be either Stalinism or Americanism, or the hybrid of the two mentioned above. Neither Stalin nor Americans invented these two extremes; they are repeated patterns formed by the constraints of nature itself in the task of uniting individuals to perform the functions required for civilization.

When such patterns form in a musical genre, equality results, because when there are too many people in a cycle they make an unspoken agreement to treat each other equally so that none are seen as aggressors. This is similar to Americanized Stalinism in that it is the fear of the individual which motivates a stronger society with more rigid rules, such that the rules themselves become the goal, instead of the avoidance or promotion of consequence that the rules were intended to cause. Fear is the cause, and the result is a type of negative thinking that presupposes bad consequences to justify radical and extreme actions taken against its possibility. As the negative thinking spreads, it dominates every form of social and political discourse, and becomes accepted as a fact of civilization itself and not an option.

This negative thinking aims to nullify possible threats instead of treat the source of threat, so it has a neutralizing effect, and soon standards lower. From the best of civilized intentions, collaboration, we produce unending compromise. The compromise arises from our fear of transgressing against well-intentioned but rigid rules, and because the rules are irrational, all other thinking becomes irrational. The individual becomes the root of all justification, and so even if the individual produces mediocrity, there is a demand that all respect that individual for the sole reason of he or she being an individual — otherwise, the negative thinking is violated, and we all will descend into anarchy (the thinking goes).

In an artistic genre, this results in tolerance for all artists which means an information overload so great that none can rise above the crowd. As a result, you have many people happy to have achieved mediocre success, because that’s where 99% of all artists are going anyway, and 1% of the artists who could do better standing alone, longing for a frontier. All suffer because they can’t promote this 1%, because those are the superstars who keep new people coming into a genre, which is necessary because fans age and drop out or die. However, they prefer on an individual level to be rockstars of their block instead of allowing others to be recognized artists who lead.

This pattern repeats itself time and again. It’s how nature sloughs off the dead and dying before they actually exterminate itself, kind of like the sudden summer colds the gods wisely designed to erode the elderly population (think quickly: die for months in a hospital bed, or get the sniffles, go to sleep and kick off in a matter of hours? if the two were methods of execution, we’d quickly decide the latter was more “humane”). If any society cannot find a balance between individual and collective, it tends toward the extremes, becomes rigid and collapses into the kind of third-world entropy we see in the ruins of past superstar civilizations and, hehe, black and death metal today.

One on extreme, in black and death metal, you’ve got the “let’s be one unit” people, or Stalinists, who call themselves “true” but are true to looking like they’re the past, but not understanding, because they’re actually there to be rockstars of the block (note that the first pose adopted by rockstars of the block is humility; it lets them manipulate other people into supporting their own mediocrity, under the guise of “helping one another” and when no one’s looking, taking advantage of the situation; a community of rockstars of the block would rapidly starve itself: “I swear, Jimbo, there was a whole bushel of grain there we were going to share! I don’t know how it got so small, but let’s split it anyway”). The faux true contingent of death metal and black metal bands take the past, put it in a blender, and then drift toward whatever their childhood influences were, which is what they were going to do anything. As a result you have Suffocation-style death metal with black metal choruses mixed into what sounds, at its core, like a Def Leppard ballad. You should buy it because it’s unique.

The other extreme are those who want to embrace the crowdthink through individualism people, or Americans, who want to make that uniqueness be the central feature of the music, but they also tend to play exactly what their childhood influences were, and spend a good deal of time neurotically trying to cover it up. To them, good music has a combination of instruments, images, or quirks never done before, so they specialize in making funk-based death metal with black metal face paint and electric tuba solos. These combinations are inherently unstable, and if you listen carefully, you can hear the Def Leppard peeking through underneath. These musicians deal exclusively in re-combined aesthetic, but never change the structure, form, or musical language of the music. It remains Def Leppard, cut up by jazz breaks and horn solos, grindcore blast beats and disco choruses.

Both extremes share one thing in common: Because the music they make is blatantly ludicrous, and at its essential level unremarkable and in fact in agonized neurotic contortions to hide its ordinariness, the “artists” adopt a pose of self-reflexive irony: “It’s supposed to be entertainment, and between you and me, most of them don’t get it. We’re laughing at ourselves! The people in the audience who know the hip joints are laughing with us, at themselves and ourselves. It’s a big, UNIQUE, party!” Unfortunately for humanity, most people are barely entering maturity when they start listening to this stuff, and it can take them another decade to take a long hard look at what they were listening to, cough, and throw in the towel. At that point, most are so cynical they expect all forms of potential truth or vision to be scams, and so embrace a Gene Simmons-style “it’s all entertainment, don’t take it so seriously” attitude. Doubly unfortunate is that they approach religion and taxes with the same attitude.

The interesting thing about patterns however is that they do not have a central controller. Instead, they emerge from a situation when multiple conditions are correct. The horde of people making stupid music would like you to believe that at some point, the hand of G-d descended upon Earth and wrote in clear Spanglish that all metal must be insincere, and either imitate the past or combine motley cliches to make a new horror of self-analytical but unprofound music. Like all things in the modern time, the pattern of clueless music emerges when a genre makes a name for itself, and then the hordes of bored kids accustomed to being lied to in the suburbs surges into the genre with the assumption that it should be as lie-ridden, popularity-dominated, and self-marketing like their parents as every other media they encounter is.

Ocean streams are another example of emergent patterns. They flow a certain way because that way is the path of least resistance for water to flow, guided by gravity and tides, shaped by shorelines and underwater formations, channeled by differentials in temperature; the paths of ocean streams are not inherent, but appear again and again because the needs of their waters are met by the situation. It’s like horses and open barn doors: you don’t need to tell them to leave, because any creature cooped in a barn wants to leave and will do so, given (a) an aperture and (b) the promise of relative impunity in escape.

What is common about emergent systems is the need for an attractor, which can either be something valuable (atoms bonding with atoms to form stable molecules) or something empty, like a void or frontier (horses rushing toward open barn door). There is in nothingness always possibility; in somethingness, there is safety, but at the expense of variability. It’s like picking a boring day job over a more chaotic self-employment, or choosing to be a domesticated dog instead of a wolf, filling your head with television instead of thinking, or deciding to stay single instead of risking a relationship in which real work must be required. Metal music requires a frontier, unfilled in nothingness, so it can have space to expand.

In this however we see the parallel roles of creation and destruction. For creation to occur, there must be empty spaces but these are only acquired through the removal of something that exists. This principle underlies both natural selection and our tendency toward, in boredom, smashing boring things. When there is too much somethingness, we must make nothingness by removing that which is and is also unsatisfying. For example, if we burned every death and black metal recording but that top slice of really profound works, would the genre be stronger or weaker? Weaker in quantity, stronger in quality, with lots of empty space in which others can visualize their musical/artistic dreams being fulfilled.

Underground metal flourished in a brief period of frontier. Indie labels were a creation of the 1980s when, with digital recording technology becoming affordable just around the corner, printing plants began to more widely open up the new digital technology of compact discs to smaller businesses. As it became possible to print just a few thousand CDs, it became possible to run a small label without it being a complete financial loss, and so indie rock and eventually, indie metal (known as underground metal: thrash, death metal, black metal, grindcore, doom metal) expanded. To distance themselves from mainstream rock, and to compensate for their lack of big bucks for flashy studios, both indie rock and underground metal embraced a gritty aesthetic that made them unpalatable to the average consumer.

However, the average consumer wants to buy something that is intangible, which is that hipness or cachet of authenticity of which rock writers rave. This is why white kids bought forbidden “race music” called the blues, even though it was essential Celtic-Germanic folk music repackaged with a constant beat and gritty vocals. This is why punk music grew rapidly once people living boring lives saw it as a chance to walk on “the other side.” This is why freaks of nature and often pointless artist from Klaus Nomi to Insane Clown Posse have always attracted an audience, because they’re “unique” and “different.” The history of rock music is of one undending scam that sells inferior music to bored kids who are seeking an alternative to the staid social lifestyle of compliance that they see in their parents, who because of their dysfunctional attitudes, treat their children like objects and are consequently covertly hated.

In metal, this desire for the other side manifested itself in Pantera making death-metal-like albums for the real meatheads out there, Cannibal Corpse making a parody of death metal (later parodied by art rock band Fetid Zombie) that had enough groove and bounce for the masses, and eventually, in boutique black metal like Ulver and trend-oriented death metal like Opeth, as well as a horde of “blender bands” who throw past successes into a blender, make an incomprehensible melange, and then wrap it around the same three-chord boring moron rock music that has afflicted the “culture” of industrialized nations since the 1950s.

Frontiers are the antidote to this, but they must begin in destruction. Idiots will tell you destruction is bad, because in their view, more metal means more power in metal. However, life is a science of pattern organization, and this is why patterns of higher organization (complexity) trump those of lower organization; this is why one Beethoven outshines 6,000,000 rock bands and forces their fans into denial of their inferiority. Idiots naturally feel defensive when they develop the resulting inferiority complex, so they come up with endless insincere excuses for why they should continue to listen to stupid music instead of facing reality and finding better music: we like it, it’s unique, every person has musical taste that is unrelated to their mental capacity, it’s our right to like garbage if we want, stupid music is more profound because it has a perspective contrary to the ruling classes, and so on. It’s all mental chewing gum that will keep a brain noshing, trying to find the substance, until it realizes that these statements are broken tautologies of the form “this is important because it claims to be important,” and then moves on.

Artists long for frontiers because they understand the odd relationship between creativity and power. We all want to feel power in life so we can think that our time was well spent as we lie on our deathbeds, and before, as we question daily whether we should keep going. Power is felt by having the ability to change things for the better, and this ability is afforded by looking at life, understanding the rules of nature, and using our creativity to find a way to work greatness within those rules. Freedom is not the answer, because freedom in human minds means no rules, which means our creativity has nothing to chew on, so we make garish “unique” and uniquely useless melanges instead. For creativity to thrive, we need an empty space in which to exert our power, like ancient men approaching their fields and streams and leaving behind farms and windmills irrigating them.

For those who want a frontier in metal, the path is clear. We must laugh at the now-dead past of fifteen years of unsuccessful metal which was “good enough” but never really good, and as we laugh, smash it aside. We do not need greater numbers. We need better fighters. We need bands on the level of Black Sabbath, Slayer, Morbid Angel, Burzum and Gorguts in order to make for ourselves a new space in which healthier metal can grow. For those of us who are not active musicians, this starts in intolerance of garbage music, progresses to its destruction, and then manifests itself in the tolerance of a gardener: we accept everything, but ignore all but the exceptional, and since we water that exceptional and nurture it, we let nature carry off the rest to an early death. This is both natural selection and common sense: if you tolerate everything, you will never have great things, but if you focus on the great, you will bring more of it upon yourselves.

Metal exists in a dual state of brain/body because of its hybrid origin in soundtracks/rock music, even though it was a fundamental rebellion against the careless hippie music of the time which introduced non-solutions as a good way to stay oblivious and justify personal profit, sexual conquest and hedonism despite the obvious need for hard work to resurrect a confused and dying civilization. Metal brought us back to the heavy, but because people living pointless lives like easy solutions and would like to think that buying a CD means they can “walk on the wild side” and feel OK with their mediocrity, it fights this dual nature. It’s 25% Demilich-Burzum fans, and 75% Cannibal Corpse-Skinless fans. However, as the morons fill every available space with garbage, there’s room for the 25% to return in vengeful fashion, mocking and burning the stupid, and opening up a frontier horizon for exploration.

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Nihilism

Nihilism is the removal of false logic based on the human perspective. Like heavy metal, it’s an attempt to see the heavy in life — the invisible threads of experience, need and wisdom that unite those who are awake.

Nihilism should be seen as a form of idealism, a rejection of the phenomenological and existential, as well as the dualistic heaven/earth scenario that creates an absolutist good/evil. Nihilism is looking at what connects the many parts of life, at once, instead of limiting ourselves to a human or machine perspective.

Nihilism is Romanticism.

Nihilism is derived from a Liberal impulse, “do what is right not what is profitable,” but uses the methods that have been true in every age. It is more conservationism than conservatism. It is anti-liberal, and demands that both capitalism and socialism be tempered by an abstract goal.

Nihilism is nothing, like the order of the universe itself. You cannot touch it, you cannot own it, you cannot make it your own. Sometimes, you can channel it, and you will find your thoughts have greater clarity and your actions are not only more effective but achieve results of greater beauty.

And that, in the end, is nihilism: using primal science to escape linearity arising from our entrenchment in the human time-denying (but not timeless) perspective, and to unite the threads of interconnected reality into an organic order.

What is nihilism?

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Quick Reviews: Hod and Fetid Zombie

Hod – Cry and Piss Yourself

A fusion of Mayhem and Satyricon with impulse-driven American turbo death metal like Angelcorpse, Hod brings zero surprises but keeps the power of momentum balanced with an ambiguous lightly dissonant harmony. It suspends belief with single-string riffs which turn opposite views of a note cluster into an ambience, then launches into Gorgoroth-style additive chord progressions that end in obscure suggestions of direction which never materialize. The object of this band appears to be the contrast between mood and adrenaline, and if it does so without any particular deviation from the past, it also does so well. Its strength is this balance, and its weakness is a tendency to fall into variations of patterns that Destruction and Kreator made cliche long ago, but there is potential here for development if the band is able to flesh out its repertoire of riffs without losing the single-mindedness of its songs. Sometimes this band is like listening to someone’s metal collection; for example, the song “Demoralizer” could have come from a Master session outtake. But what’s with the 89-IQ-point, Pantera-inspired title?

Fetid Zombie – Pleasures of the Scalpel

Once upon a time, a lonely genre called death metal thrived, and people liked it because its message “only death is real” cut away the illusion of a world obsessed with social status, self-serving morality and trends. Then, some trendy fratboys put together a band called Cannibal Corpse and made the first real parody of death metal, except that they seemed serious, and people bought it in droves. Soon many imitations burst fully formed out of the garage studios of the world. Fifteen years later, Fetid Zombie skewers that tendency with a parody that takes the most simplistic aspects of death metal and blows them gloriously out of proportion. Guitars ride the downbeat of a chant synchronized to basic drums, hammering out the most linear riff patterns possible, on absurd topics of carefree infection, happy mutilation and joie de mort. It’s unlistenable but delivers a message the death metal community needed to heed long ago.

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